Reveg to Dentist: Cool to Warm Season

After a consultation at the oral surgery center in El Paso, why not visit some of my past projects? And so I did.

And there’s no better time than the end of winter or earliest spring.

This is the revegetation portion of overall landscape architectural work done for Lundy Elementary School, in northwest El Paso TX – photos taken on 3/9/2022:

This school site was once bisected by a deep, canyon-like arroyo. The undisturbed slope, arroyo channel, and wild plants are on the right (south); the disturbed slope revegetation with now-establishing native plants is on the left.

Revegetation work used a mix of species once growing on this site. A number of plants were salvaged prior to mass grading and construction, plus additional seeding with native grasses and wildflowers.

Salvaged plants were first stored and later transplanted into the design, to once again grow on-site. That grounds it to the ecoregion aesthetically, providing functions such as erosion control and a source of food or shelter for pollinators and wildlife. The seeding helps to further knit the groundplane between larger salvaged plants, the roots providing additional erosion control.

The entire area, plants and seeding, was temporarily irrigated with an in-ground, rotary head system. That can be turned on again during droughts.

Salvaged plants included Agave lechuguilla, Fouquieria splendens, Opuntia macrocentra, Echinocereus dasyacanthus ssp. dasyacanthus, and Yucca torreyi.

Seeding included Aristida purpurea, Baileya multiradiata, Bouteloua spp., and Sporobolus cryptandrus. Those grow more sparsely here in desert scrub than in desert grassland, but they are still present.

Past experience proved again, how other native species unavailable for purchase will volunteer into revegetation areas, over time. The larger green shrubs, Baccharis sarothroides, are the only non-native, invasive species observed.

Muhlenbergia porteri, Parthenium incanum, Glandularia wrightii, and Gutierrezia microcephala were some of the locally-native plants that added themselves into the revegetation areas. A few other plants will also volunteer in, if they haven’t already.

Though not a typical ornamental garden, natural desert has it’s own year-round appeal.

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Back to the dentist where I started, I took some photos of their new landscape; I’m unsure of the designer, but it works well. I hope to see this design mature over the next several years, like my own projects.

Sporobolus wrightii was hard to find for use in landscaping 20 or more years ago, but that adaptable riparian native is hard not to find in today’s landscapes.

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Fast forward to the last months of this past growing season, following a productive monsoon season in late summer. And back to Lundy Elementary School’s revegetation project – photos taken on 9/28/22.

This not only has a different appearance than the end of winter given months of growing season warmth, but plants have grown in more.

Gladly, little growth of invasive species and weeds common to the area were seen. Nor has there been any removal or shaping of native species in the reveg areas.

The choice of chain link fencing or it’s placement were not my decisions; that material was a budgetary decision made by the engineer, and the placement closer to the street and sidewalk than on the base plans I designed from was decided later, in the field.

To think those areas, barren during landscape work years ago, now look more like the design intent than the ornamental landscaping!

Architect: MNK Architects

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Crazy Cat

After a most satisfying breakfast at Crave, in and out before the Sunday crowds, I was in the mood to walk over to an old bike shop project.

As usual, the planting bones are what’s left, while smaller plants like Chrysactinia mexicana and Bouteloua curtipendula are needlessly gone. You can scroll down for past blog posts on Crazy Cat Cyclery, showing before and progress scenes. Photos from 10/30/2022 in El Paso TX:

But on the bright side, the volunteer Yucca torreyi is hanging tight with the usual Dasylirion wheeleri and Yucca pallida. With help from Adobe Illustrator or some other software magic, I still might change the three live oaks along the street to what they should have been.

If I do that fun exercise, you’ll know first.

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Peering down into the communal sitting area, that Quercus fusiformis clump is the only live oak that should be there. It’s in need of some interior, structural pruning, to remove the tangle of crossing branches and grow more vigorously, with character.

The rock walls that retain and define a few garden spaces worked, as did my seat walls. More than once, I relaxed there after mountain bike rides on nearby trails. Rectilinear forms are often the best solution, in spite of or because of their simplicity.

That same sitting area is now seen from below in the parking area. Those tough and evergreen Yucca pallida just keep on, but do you see what I mean about pruning to benefit this live oak clump?

24/7 is the truth – all the things that go wrong never stop working. While mortals like me must rest, eat, and so on.

Yet it’s amazing that we or what we do manages to prevail!

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Past posts on this project:

July 2014

August 2014

October 2014

December 2017

Chihuahua: Meet Sonora

Over the last few years, I’ve finally explored areas spotted on Google, near a location I suspected was near the Sonoran Desert. The mysterious hills and mountains above sleepy Benson, Arizona called.

This is a classic example of an ecotone, or as some say, a transitional area. It’s where different natural environments overlap, though almost always one is more dominant. Including when climate or flora are considered, as they should be.

East of the San Pedro River, March 2020:

My first detour from so many drives between New Mexico and Phoenix or Tucson, was at the Pomerene Road exit from I-10.

Several miles north of the freeway, I turned right off Pomerene Road, where it became Cascabel Road. Several miles and over a hill and bend in the road, a large grouping of Chainfruit Cholla / Cylindropuntia fulgida appears. This cholla is seen in higher elevations of the Sonoran Desert but rarely, if at all, elsewhere.

I’ve read about this finger of the Sonoran Desert on this website, but it was time to see for myself. Where does the first saguaro cactus grow going north and lower in elevation from I-10? Or the typical companion plants of the saguaro, such as palo verde or jojoba? Which to many means, “where does the Sonoran Desert begin?”

Like the previous stand of Sonoran indicator, Chainfruit Cholla, a few miles north and another indicator plant began to appear – Parkinsonia florida / Blue Palo Verde.

That palo verde was observed as single plants, or increasingly as several plants. But the next plant was what I was looking for most – Carnegia gigantea / Saguaro. This lone cactus was larger than how it appeared in 2011 Google views, though it has no arms.

The typical associates to saguaros include palo verdes, britlebush, or bursage. Those were lacking with these upper elevation saguaros, however.

This smaller saguaro was just north of the previous one, and its companions also appear to be mesquites and creosote bushes.

On the hill adjacent to where I spotted the saguaro, Eschscholzia mexicana / Mexican Gold Poppy and Ericameria laricifolia / Turpentine Bush appear. Those are common in upland and foothill areas where I live, too.

A mile or two north of the second saguaro, a third saguaro appeared on this south-facing hill among more dormant mesquites and near creosote bushes. But alas, it was time to return to the freeway and get home, still over 3 hours away.

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East of the San Pedro River, March 2021:

Time flies, and right before I started working again, botanist Russ Buhrow took me plant exploring over Redington Pass, which is on the saddle connecting the Rincon and Catalina mountains east of Tucson. At the bottom of a long, winding dirt road, we crossed the San Pedro River and intersected with the same Cascabel Road I saw the 2020 saguaros, only some distance further north.

While there were saguaros towards the end of the road 15 miles south, these are clearly larger, older saguaros than there. Many of these have arms and companion plants like Parkinsonia microphylla / Yellow or Foothill Palo Verde instead of those found in the Chihuahuan Desert.

I recall seeing some jojobas mixed in with the above plants towards the end of our descent into Redington, here in the San Pedro river valley.

At this slightly lower elevation near Redington, Sonoran Desert species are numerous.

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West of the San Pedro River, June 2022:

Longer days mean hotter days, but they also mean the ability to make the 4 hour trip from Tucson to my home before dark. Including a 75 minute detour to observe plant geography in action, as the intense heat of late June intimidated. One long and hectic year after my 2021 Sonoran Desert and saguaro recon trip, I tried a different side of the San Pedro River.

At Benson, I exited I-10 and drove north on Ocotillo Road. And after 10 or 15 minutes driving through peaceful farms and ranchettes, there was a lone saguaro spear. Again, on a south-facing hill.

If you look closely or click to enlarge the photo, another smaller saguaro is growing to the left and a little downhill. And like the first plants on the east side of the river, mesquites seem to be the companion plants, not palo verdes.

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A couple miles up Ocotillo Road, and around a bend, and voila – larger, older saguaros with arms. More than I could make out using Google satellite view.

Looking closely at many of these cacti, they’re at their bitter end, as far as susceptibility to the rare but periodic deep freezes. But they’re multiplying more here than the east side of the San Pedro River valley, and the larger ones extend further south here on the west side.

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Monsoon season clouds blowing up towards where I’ll be driving home, past the lonely hills in the foreground and the more distant Dragoon Mountains. Do those lower hills harbor other saguaros? That’s for another trip, at least from the road – I drive a Toyota Corolla!

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Driving the opposite direction back towards I-10, more saguaros were spotted low and high on the ridge leading NW towards the Rincon Mountains.

Wherever those saguaros are growing or nearby, no blue or foothill palo verde were visible as single plants or in larger stands. The only companions to these saguaros are creosote bushes and bright green mesquites.

Such an ecotone with the Chihuahuan Desert is something I never seem to read about, but it’s quite obvious when here, as it is researching area climatology.

Except for the saguaros, every other plant looks similar to arid but cooler Chihuahuan Desert, seen for hours and hours driving any direction from Las Cruces.

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Now, for a last surprise.

Facing the opposite direction, look at what’s standing boldly to the left between hills. Another saguaro under this deceptively cloudy sky – it’s broiling right now with hardly a breeze.

Such a stereotypical form of the warmest parts of Arizona

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It’s time to drive home, and once at I-10, it began to cool by at least 10 degrees as I quickly climbed to about 5,000 feet at Texas Canyon. The rest of the drive at around 4,000 feet elevation, temperatures became cool and pleasant as I headed east into those storms. Though the storms and rain were only spotty, the sun was mostly gone, and I barely had to run my car’s AC.

Well within the Chihuahuan Desert, still 90 minutes from home, it was familiar country again, and the promise of another monsoon season, starting early. Instead of saguaros, Yucca elata / Soaptree or Palmilla stand sentry over the vast desert grassland.

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Back to ecotones, other population centers are located where different natural environments overlap including Tucson, Albuquerque, Saint George, or Tulsa. Such places are interesting to explore the outskirts of and get inspired.

Designing landscapes or having a garden in an ecotone, one discovers the need to make plant selections that embrace reality. Not unnecessarily limit possibilities.

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